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How is child support calculated

Learn how courts calculate child support in your state

States do not have a universal guideline for calculating child support. Read below to get a general overview of how each state calculates child support.

Determining which parent will pay child support

Usually, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, even if the parents have joint custody. Different courts use different models for calculating child support, but the amount may depend on how much time each parents spend with the child, the parents’ income, the child’s needs, and the standard of living the child enjoyed before the parents divorced, if the parents were once married.

There are three main models that states use for calculating child support, and some states use a combination of the models. The most common are the income shares model and the percentage of income model. The least common is the Melson formula.

Income shares model

Under the income shares model, your percentage of the combined income is the percentage that you will have to pay in child support. For instance, if you make $100,000 per year, and your spouse makes $50,000 per year, your combined income is $150,000. Since your income is 2/3 of the combined income, or about 66%, then you would pay 66% of your income in child support, and the other parent would pay 1/3, or about 33% of their income in child support.

States that use the income shares model

Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming.

Percentage of income model

This model calculates the amount based on a percentage of the parent’s income who is obligated to pay, usually the non-custodial parent. The court may adjust the percentage depending on how much time the parent spends with the child, or the law could set a flat percentage.

States that use the percentage of income model

Alaska, Arkansas, District of Colombia, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, North, Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin

Melson formula

The Melson formula is a more complex version of the income shares model. This model includes several steps:

  1. The court gives each parent a “poverty self-support reserve,” which is a minimum amount that each parent needs to support themselves.
  2. The court calculates the percentage of combined income that each parent makes.
  3. The court calculates an amount based on the number of children involved, called the “primary support obligation.” Finally, the court adds all of these amounts together, then uses the income shares model to calculate the percentage each parent owes based on the percentage of each parent’s net income after all of the above calculations.

States that use the Melson formula

Delaware, Hawaii, Montana

Deviating from the state guidelines

Whether a court can deviate from the state’s child support guidelines depends on the state’s rules, but many states allow courts to deviate upwards and downwards. The court will consider the child’s standard of living, unusual expenses, and the parents’ income. Often, you can request an upward deviation from the guidelines if the other parent begins earning a higher income. Likewise, you can generally request a downward deviation if you begin earning a lower income. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide.

If the parents live in different states

If the child’s parents live in different states, in which state the child support is calculated is a question of whether the court has jurisdiction over the case. If the state court has jurisdiction, then the court will calculate the support amount based on that state’s rules. Jurisdiction can be a complex issue and the rules for jurisdiction also vary from state to state.

If you would like an accurate idea of what you can expect to pay for child support, be sure to consult an attorney who is experienced in family law.

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